Counter-narratives are a fundamental tool in countering violent extremism. The media arsenal propagated by extremists as propaganda for various purposes has necessitated the development of counter-narratives as a fundamental tool in countering violent extremism.
The construction of counter-narratives should be informed by an analysis of pre-existing and current trends in extremist messaging, media, etc. It is a cyclical, dynamic process of analysis – construction – dissemination. An analysis of the specific propaganda used by extremist groups will reveal the types of narratives used, which should then inform the types of counter-narratives to be employed in countering them.
Countering extremist propaganda is no small fete. It is reactionary and defensive, and therefore reliant upon the actions and messages of extremists. Narratives that seek to promote and glorify violent actions tend to get disproportionately greater media coverage than the reactive non-violent action proponents. Counter-narratives therefore need to be more pre-emptive and proactive if they are to resonate with target audiences and communities. Their success will depend upon the consistent, cohesive, and consolidated messaging from all stakeholders (government, civil society, private sector) skillfully crafted and targeted towards each of their publics.
– The most pivotal element of a counter-narrative is its deconstruction and discrediting of the extremist argument to water down its appeal. This involves rendering the arguments unacceptable, irrational, and unrealistic. However, it is important that a factual deconstruction is crafted in such a manner as to avoid derogating the political grievances that may underpin the sentiment. They must be neutral as regards religion, politics and ethnicity. – In order to be effective, they must be categorical and unwavering in their assertions. Emphasizing non-violent resolutions, and cultivating a general public sentiment that rejects violence as an option. – They also need to bridge the gap between passive consumption of propaganda and an active engagement with extremists causes and agendas. This can be pre-empted by strengthening community and individual resilience to radicalization, and emphasizing collective and individual responsibility to undertake efforts to guard themselves against vulnerability to extremist influence in its varied forms. – The messaging must transcend empty platitudes by fostering inclusivity and engaging the masses. It should encourage and drive public discourse on significance and need for mutual respect and recourse to non-violent means to address issues. – Messaging must further strive to delink terror from religion. This can be achieved via the use of religion neutral language. The primary message here should be that extremism is extremism, regardless of attempts by its proponents to use religion and the misinterpretation of religious texts to vindicate their actions. Violence is fundamentally wrong, illegal, and punishable by law.
The efficacy of a counter-narrative campaign will be determined not only by its substance, from analysis and research informing its development to strategic dissemination, but by its appeal. Aesthetic appeal, creativity, and capacity to not only persuade, but to inspire.